devXero's blog

a blog about agile, development, and automation

Is the product owner part of the scrum team???

Posted by Mike Longin on August 7, 2008

I was asked this question last night, and by asked I mean I had a 2 hour discussion in the lobby of the Sheraton about this.

I believe that Agile says no.  The scrum team is the manufacturer and the product owner is the customer.  It is the teams job to produce for the product owner.  But then I stepped back and looked at my team, where our product owner sits in the same room with us and actively helps us do our job better, and thought to myself that she is with out a doubt part of the team.  But at the same time, if she started putting unrealistic expectations on the team, or started asking developers to do things that were not part of the sprint, then I would have to step in and stop that.  With that in mind it seemed that the line between scrum team and product owner was blurry.

But then I came up with what I think is a very interesting analogy on the situation.  Let us pretend for a moment that we work for a company that makes widgets.  Another company uses these widgets when they make there product (lets call it baubles).  Now it seems there is an unlimited demand for baubles, thus this company is constantly trying to obtain widgets for making more baubles.  As the owner of the widget company I want to make as many widgets as possible while still keeping my company whole.  I do not want people leaving because they are overworked, and don’t want people working on waadgets, when its widgets that we are supposed to be manufacturing.  At the same the bauble manufacturer wants as many widgets as possible.

In this scenario both companies share the same strategic goal, make as much money by making as many widgets as possible so that baubles can keep on selling.  Yet at the same time they have different sub goals.  The widget manufacturer wants to protect his company from burning out and the bauble company wants to obtain as many widgets as possible regardless of the cost.  This creates a relationship between the two of them and in effect creates a larger team that encompasses the two of them.

I think the scrum team and product owner have much that same relationship.  The team wants to produce as much as possible yet stay healthy, and the PO wants as much product as possible.  Yet they both want to produce the best software possible which they can sell and make money with.

The PO\Scrum team super team (I am working on a better word) is thus created from the relationship between the two groups.  And while the PO is not part of the traditional scrum team, they are a part of the larger picture.  WIthout a good relationship between the two, they both suffer.  Either because more product can be delivered then is being delivered due to over cautious use of resources, or too much product is being delivered at the expense of the members of the scrum team.  But when the relationship is at its perfect balance, the scrum team is delivering 100% of the product requested by the backlog.

I think the summation of this is that there is a very important team that includes both the traditional scrum team and the product owner.  And it is the relationship in this team that does much to define the effectiveness of both parties.

Mike

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3 Responses to “Is the product owner part of the scrum team???”

  1. Chris said

    I agree with this wholeheartedly and thing you bring up an excellent point. I think the biggest obstacle that people will face is training. When training for Agile/Scrum is separate for both PO and Development Scrum people misunderstand that relationship and therefore do not accept the PO as a proper team member or influencee but instead as an opponent to the team. This builds bad relationships, and due to misunderstanding of training which seems to be on average not shared with the PO, the scrum team may find the PO to be outcasted, and having different expectations, therefore causing a rift between the two entities. I think it’s important when forming a team whether physical or in spirit training for this knowledge must be done together with both sides of the coin present. This allows for discussion and expectations without the need to leave anyone alienated by this process.

  2. Marie said

    Interesting thoughts, Mike, and hats off on setting up this blog. I’m going to RSS into it. That is if I can figure out how to do that. I bet you’d help me with that.

    I’m warning you that I’m about to ramble at times, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and I’ve got so much to say. So before I respond to your thoughts, I want to first back up just a little bit and tell you more about where I’m coming from.

    When I’m doing Agile coaching and roles training, I talk like to talk about a triangle and its 3 axis’s. I draw the triangle up on the whiteboard and I label each corner with the words “Product”, “Development”, and “Quality”. They stand each other up, right? Now, erase one of the lines and what happens? The same thing that that happens to teams when you take one of the roles out. In both cases, you’re left with an incomplete object and one that’s pretty useless.

    Ok, so we’ve taken one of these roles out of the Scrum team. Hopefully teams like yours, where the cooperation was already high, are barely affected because the people don’t let it. There might be a subtle shift in responsibility. So was there a real time payoff?

    Now let’s look at the reality of so many other teams out there. You know what I mean…those teams where the devs and QAs feel protected by their scrummaster from their presumably unreasonable PO. (Although, there are some seriously unreasonable PO’s out there too, so I’m not minimizing that.)Or maybe the qa’s and devs feel like there’s a new barrier to working openly and transparently with the business side — going into “robot mode”, where they feel like asking questions about requirements and priorities is now “questioning”. Add to that you’ve got a PO who might feel ostracized from everyone else. So what happens then? Weird walls go up between people, productivity might take a dip, you might see lower job satisfaction and all that stuff. Someone needs to fill me on the gain there.

    If the cooperative teams don’t get any real payoff, and uncooperative teams risk even more stain on the team relationship, then which team has the winning hand? That’s not to say all teams lose all the time, but my current company is the first one that separated the PO from the “team”. So up until recently, I’d never given it much thought, and I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great teams. So I’m not sure how my teams would have benefited from my removal from the scrum team.

    Another thing it’s so easy to forget when we’re looking at a huge backlog and it feels like there’s never enough time to deliver is that a good PO will ALWAYS have more stacked in the backlog than can be done today. That’s their job. It’s that forward thinking that keeps us in business. On the other hand, PO’s shouldn’t be making unreasonable demands on teams to complete the work faster than the team can go. People tell me it’s this behavior that forces us to take the PO out of the scrum team. Returning to your team as the example, during crunch time when hours are long and there’s too much work, you were able to leverage your relationship with the PO, as opposed to pulling out a “protector” card. I honestly believe that the “protector” role was created and the PO was kicked off the team because the harder work it takes to negotiate and cooperate.

    So back to what you wrote:
    “I believe that Agile says no. The scrum team is the manufacturer and the product owner is the customer.”
    I’m adding:
    – Scrum is just one flavor of Agile. XP, AUP, Crystal Clear don’t make mention of the customer not being on the “team”. Take it one step farther – XP says you don’t have a QA role on a team. Just the customer and the developer. Just guess what I think about a team that doesn’t include QA. {Queue Marie’s eye rolling.}

    You wrote
    “It is the team’s job to produce for the product owner.
    I’m adding:
    I genuinely hope that we – even if it’s just you and me – shift that perception. I believe that all three team roles should feel connected to the same overarching goals. I would never want a team to feel like they’re coding for the product owner.

    You wrote:
    “our product owner sits in the same room with us and actively helps us do our job better”
    I’m adding:
    – Take some credit for yourself! Dev and quality actively help her do her job better too! You just nailed what the team truly is. Each axis literally supports the other two.

    You wrote:
    “PO\Scrum Team Super Team”
    I’m suggesting this: Even though I think the three roles is the team, I will happily get on board with this great idea. It’s a no brainer. So my nomination for this new super team is….drumroll please…the SLEEMANS.

    Sustainable and
    Lasting
    Enterprise
    Expansion
    Means that
    Agility
    Needs the
    Super Team

  3. Sue said

    I am typically not into “blogging” but this article really speaks volumes to the type of team I am currently a part of. We are truly a “Super Team” in that there is no differentiation between Product Owner/Managers and the “Team”. We are all together a high powered unit helping each other do our jobs well. I believe it is all about trust and respect and having the passion to accomplish the same goals. We may get our work done differently but at the end of the day we feel good about our accomplishments together, and more importantly are proud because we worked as a team. I would change one of the comments above where you say:”I think the scrum team and product owner have much that same relationship. The team wants to produce as much as possible yet stay healthy, and the PO wants as much product as possible.” I would add that the PO wants to stay healthy as well. It is not about the push it is about getting the objective accomplished together as a unified ‘TEAM”. Not sure what the new lingo will be to describe such a team but I call them the Tick-Tocks!!!

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